Bernie and Sue Pucker

The Art of Philanthropy

Bernie Pucker shows a visitor into a private room at his Newbury Street art gallery, visibly delighted to be once again among the scores of stunning porcelain vessels that crowd the shelves and countertops.

“It’s always so nice to come into this space, because they really are like musical notes—the scale, the size, the color—you could put them almost anywhere, any way and they’d still look pretty good,” he says of the bowls, vases and other works painstakingly crafted by the late Brother Thomas Bezanson,  a dear friend, renowned ceramicist and Benedictine monk whose works are sold through the gallery.


“People who come into this room get it – they understand that these are creations of a spirit and a soul that were unique our world,” Mr. Pucker says. “The whole notion that the fellowships come out of this is just extraordinary.”

He is referring to the Brother Thomas Fellowships, $15,000 no-strings-attached awards granted every two years to six talented Boston-area artists chosen by a distinguished jury. He and his wife (and gallery co-owner) Sue played an instrumental role in bringing those fellowships about. As their friend was dying of cancer in 2006-07, they worked with the Boston Foundation to create the Brother Thomas Fund.

To endow it, Brother Thomas bequeathed 800 works to the Foundation, and every time the gallery sells one, the artist’s share of the proceeds is deposited in the Brother Thomas Fund and matched by grants from the Foundation’s Permanent Fund for Boston. “This is different from a traditional endowment,” Mr. Pucker notes. “It’s one of those great ideas because it can only go up.  Every time a work is sold it continues to grow.”

“It was all Thomas’s vision – he wanted to help struggling artists,” explains Mr. Pucker, who with his wife has a Donor Advised Fund at the Boston Foundation for their personal philanthropy. “We were very grateful that the Foundation was open to taking objects that they weren’t going to turn around the next day and sell. The trustees at the time understood that this was a long-term gift.”

The Puckers’ involvement in establishing their friend’s legacy is just one example of their dedication to making Greater Boston a better place. “What I find so impressive about Sue and Bernie’s approach to philanthropy, and why it is a model for others, is that they understand that philanthropy can be about so much more than financial resources,” says Laura Perille, who first met the Puckers 12 years ago when she became head of EdVestors, a nonprofit dedicated to improving urban schools in Boston, and Sue Pucker was a founding board member. “As they practice it, philanthropy is about engagement, personal participation, connections, networking and providing strategic guidance to the nonprofits and social entrepreneurs that they support.”

And if an organization has one of them on the board, “it’s a two for one,” according to Ms. Perille, because “they are interconnected in the support of organizations they are passionate about. They never came to an EdVestors event where I didn’t get an e-mail from Bernie with gentle yet insightful feedback.”

Ask the Puckers what their philanthropy springs from, and Bernie will reply that for him, it’s a calling. Sue says “It’s just a part of my life and I can’t imagine my life without it. This is just important to who we are, and hopefully who our children are and our grandchildren.” The couple has three sons and six grandchildren.

Ms. Perille says she sees in the Puckers “a deep and really spiritual sense of social justice” and feels their engagement springs from “their understanding of the personal responsibility that we all have for making the world a better place for others.”

She calls Sue Pucker “a serial entrepreneur and start-up artist” who has played critical roles in the Boston Arts AcademyEdVestors, the Children’s Museum and the Maranyundo School for Girls in Rwanda.

The Puckers are particularly enjoying their role in hosting events in their art gallery and home for the executive directors of nonprofits. The nonprofit leaders “are doing extraordinary work and they get very little in return, sometimes,” says Sue, who first conceived the events five years ago.

They also take pride in the chamber-music concerts they host in their home twice a year in honor of their birthdays. Guests are invited to contribute to their Serenata scholarship fund at the New England Conservatory in lieu of gifts. “It’s one of the highlights of the year for me,” says Bernie. “It gives you hope for all of mankind that these young people are devoting their lives to music.”